Blogs Around The World

Blogs Around The World

  • Planning for Growth

    Try as we might to change through our own efforts, perhaps even through New Year’s Resolutions, we struggle to do it on our own strength. Happily, as Paul says in the above verses, God works in us to do his purposes. So from beginning to end, it is God who does the work of changing us. Does this mean we sit back and do nothing? Not at all! But because of the Gospel (the good news of what God has done for us through Jesus), we gain the will and power to change...

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  • Created for Worship

    Have you ever came across something so beautiful and so perfect that you just were compelled to talk about it?  Maybe it was a perfect campsite on the beach, a secluded mountain overlook at sunset, or even a novel that you just can seem to get over?  Now consider the One who created and inspired all that we hold lovely and perfect.  Worship seems like a pretty appropriate response to his beauty and bounty! This week we and several of our Haitian colleagues are attending the Symposium on Christian Worship at Calvin College...  

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  • Going to School on Sidney Greidanus

    Several years ago I gave a talk at Calvin College, about the two-book preaching method that was evolving in my mind and at our church. After I presented, someone came up to me and told me that Calvin Seminary’s Old Testament and Preaching professor, Sidney Greidanus, had been sitting in the back row. I swallowed hard when I heard that news. Dr. Greidanus was my pastor when I was a boy and I knew he held the bar very high when it came to orthodox preaching. That night I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought. ..

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  • Words to Live By

    I very recently had a birthday, and as I move more and more solidly into middle age (despite my internal protestation that I can still—even if just barely—lay claim to being in my MID-forties), I also seem to be making inexorable progress towards sounding more and more like my mother. Which is not a bad thing, actually. My mother, who died over fifteen years ago when she herself was middle aged, did me the great service of modeling a life in which she didn’t apologize for saying what she meant...

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  • The Following Is Your Mission, If You Choose to Accept It...

    While I completely affirm that the bible is all infallible guide for life and practice, I believe such thinking forgets one key biblical principle: we live in a fallen world. That leaves us with the number one problem of churches and denominations. What happens when the members of a church or the members of a denomination change the focus to caring only/primarily about themselves?  What happens when these folks, perhaps even out of good intentions, focus on maintaining the institution or the past more than loving and caring for others...

     

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  • Freedom in Christ

    I was at Angola with a colleague and a group of students. We had come to meet some of the men at Angola and learn about how God has been working within the prison walls. Our week to this point had been uplifting; unbelievable in some ways. We had worshipped with three different churches pastored by inmates. We sat in pews with convicted felons – murderers, rapists, violent criminals. Societal throw-aways. Human beings made in the image of God...

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  • Counterfeit Faith 2 - Experientialism

    In 1973, one of the bestselling Christian books was J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. Twenty years later, in 1993, Henry T. Blackaby’s Experiencing God was published and itself became a bestseller. From knowing to experiencing: the difference in these two titles captures the growing shift in our culture from favoring intellectual knowledge to favoring authentic experience. It is probably true that Western Christianity has had a history of idolizing the intellect. However, have we now overcorrected to the other extreme?...

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  • Soldiers of the Cross

    Week after week, someone would choose "Onward Christian Soldiers"--that's what I remember, and that's why I even remember the number. "449!"--week after week after week. I may be wrong but I think those kids who yelled out that number made sure to choose "Onward Christian Soldiers" because they just plain liked the song. I did. No one chose the plodding old psalms; basically, it was "Stand Up for Jesus" ("ye soldiers of the cross") and "Onward Christian Soldiers" every Sunday, both of them old, red-blooded fightin' songs, a genre of hymnody dead as a doornail today...

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  • Book Review: Republocrat

    One of the things I am periodically curious about are Christians’ views on the government, political engagement, and the common good. I think it is a topic we rarely address, and when we do, it all too often tends to be chock full of arrogance, anger, or indifference. So when I picked up Carl Trueman’s book, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, I was very curious to see what the professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary had to say... 

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  • God Pulls. Sin Pushes.

    Our Triune God desires and calls us and pulls us towards each other; taking them from the weak space of isolation into the power and safety of community. For there, together, there is strength, there is protection, there is wisdom and determination to withstand the seductive lures of sin. As the well known verse of Ecclesiastes 4:12 puts it: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ever noticed how Genesis 3 records that the willingness to entertain temptation, and the fall into sin, happen primarily in solitary space... 

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  • TLT Amuria - Family Violence

    We discussed family violence - physical, verbal, and sexual. We looked at what the Bible says about honoring other people who are made in God's image. We were challenged to honor people in society that are not normally honored, following the example of Jesus (people like widows, children, those with mental disabilities, those with physical disabilities).We had difficult but powerful discussions about how to love and serve well in marriage. Many of the pastors stood up proclaiming that we need to follow God’s commands even if that means going against the culture... 

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  • Bible Club Blessings

    During the school holidays, leaders from Rockview Baptist run a really fun Bible Club. The kids come for a few hours, on Wednesdays and Saturdays for games, singing, prayer, a short sermonette, Bible study, memory work... and they collect points for being on time, bringing a friend, participating, memorizing Scripture, and finishing their Bible Study homework. Once a year they can use those points to shop in a "store" - filled with personal hygiene items, toys, clothes, school books, etc....

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  • What Do You Mean b y"Love"?

    But what has sacred scripture said all along about love and what do followers of Jesus mean when talking about love? While musicians have crooned about the Book of Love as being “from above” or “long and boring,” when asked about it by some first century professors Jesus summarized it for them: the whole thing hangs on two rules 1) Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind 2) Love your neighbor as yourself...

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  • Traveling Lesson: Look Up!

    It is traveling season for Presidents! During the first part of the year, Jackie and I meet annually with the Fellowship of Evangelical Presidents. This support group gathers to engage in interactions and learnings that are also laced with laughter and sometimes tears. The Presidents that gather are strategic in that we meet in either Arizona or Florida and use the trip to make connections with churches and supporters...

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  • Prophetic or Poor Taste?

    Sometimes you encounter something that is both annoying and thought-provoking. Last week as part of Calvin College’s excellent “January Series,” a capacity crowd listened in rapt attention for an hour to Tova Friedman. There was a time for questions for about 10 minutes at the end of her talk.  Time was really up when a man in the second row stood up and began to talk...

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  • Anchorage and Antioch: Reflections on MLK Day and the Segregation of the Church

    Anchorage, AK boasts the most diverse census tract in the US. I have been thinking about my city's amazing diversity today as well as an event that happened over fifty years ago. In 1963, just months after delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Western Michigan University. While Dr. King’s words over 50 years ago should have been a wake up call... 

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  • Fidelity, Patriotism, Humanity, and Courage

    Seriously, what you can be sure of, should you visit, is that there will be no one else there. That these two massive memorials stand so much alone and so richly at the top of a hill overlooking the Minnesota River doesn't mean they've become a tourist stop. They stand together, tall and magisterial, to help us all cherish the memory of the men who died at the Battle of Birch Coulee, not all that far away, in August of 1862, a major battle of the Dakota War. They stand on that hill to prompt memories most people would rather simply let slip away...

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  • Building Things

    One of the fun benefits of having friends come to visit us is learning new things from their unique skills. When Ben came to stay with us, he helped me to build a small chicken tractor out of PVC and chicken wire. My intention is to use this when I try raising chicks or guinea fowl again - I can keep the hen and her babies safe inside here. It has really come in handy because I've been able to imprison hens inside the tractor when they are chasing other hens away from the place where they like to lay eggs. It is also useful when someone gives me a rooster...

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  • Jesus Welcomes Mockers, Skeptics, Spitters, Abusers

    Reputation matters. We all know this. We get into it with each other on Facebook, at family gatherings, in magazines, through cartoons, even to the point of shedding blood. The lectionary text this week from the Gospel of John is the call of Philip and Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s call is interesting. Jesus calls Philip. Philip finds Nathaniel and invites him to come along. Philip is...

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  • Five Years Afterwards

    On Monday, January 12, 2015, the nation of Haiti remembered the 7.0 earthquake, centered in the mountains above Leogäne, approximately 20 miles east of Port-au-Prince. The months afterwards were some of the most difficult and traumatic ever endured by the people of Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and their environs as commerce and civil life came to a complete standstill. So, five years later, what has changed?  

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  • Church Growth

    We're members of a church who bought the building where we worship when another congregation put up a new one. One of the other churches back there in town has never had its own building; they worship in a perfectly adequate high school theater. The newest congregation in the town just down the road meets on Sunday in an old car dealership, a flat old building with no bell tower and absolutely no aspiration in its design. We worship in difference spaces and that's why I'm not surprised when the Wall Street Journal says that church construction has fallen to its lowest level...

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  • When Do We Come of Age?

    This morning, I did my usual of going on Wikipedia to see what events in history happened on this day. I noticed that on this day in Japan is the national Coming of Age Day. Now, according to Wikipedia this is a national holiday where those who are 20 years of age or will be 20 years of age by April 1 of that year, celebrate becoming adults. They celebrate taking on new responsibilities and being grown up. I find that interesting. A national holiday to officially state being all grow’d up.

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  • Joined with Gold

    As a Calvinist, brokenness is a given, of course. We talk a good bit about it (and rightly so).  For me, of late, it’s become less of a theological abstraction, however. So I’ve been thinking a lot about another artistic response to brokenness: the Japanese art of kintsugi. Kintsugi—which literally means “joined with gold”—is exactly that: a technique of restoration. But with an important difference: a shattered piece of pottery (a bowl, a teacup, a plate) is not discarded, but instead an artisan mends it back together...

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  • Counterfeit Faith - Dogmatism

    I find some Christians tend to measure their faith by how many truths they can master or possess, as if faith is purely an intellectual matter. I probably was guilty of that myself in my youth. But having faith in dogma – doctrines, theology – is a counterfeit faith. It is not trusting in the living God but trusting in our human thoughts/ideas about God...

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  • 2015 New Year's Reflection: American Exceptionalism and an Invitation to Lament

    In many ways 2014 was a difficult and painful year. Time and time again we were reminded that racism and dehumanization are integral parts of the fabric of our country. I believe the problem facing our nation is rooted in our belief in our own exceptionalism. I have spent much of 2014 studying and speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery. This troubling doctrine came out of the Catholic Church...

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  • Teaching about Preaching and Family Planning

    Recently Sara and I both got to teach a class again for PAG Amuria's In Service Bible School Program for pastors. This time I taught about hermeneutics, and then also the 4-Page Method for preaching.  It's a method I learned while at Calvin Seminary.  It forces pastors to dig into the passage rather than just reading a verse and talking about whatever they want. Sara taught about community development again. It turned into an hour long discussion about family planning techniques...

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  • What Do You Mean by "Heaven"?

    Ask any given person in our world what they think about the afterlife and you will get a host of different answers. Some would describe heaven as a perfect place where good people go when they die. Heaven is a reward for a life well lived. Perhaps you picture heaven as a place filled with people who have turned into angels that play harps on clouds. I have spoken to some people who worry that this will get pretty boring after 10,000 years have passed. Where do all the harps come from...

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  • Sharing What You Believe

    This past week has been full and exciting as I am now a half-time pastor and half-time chaplain for the Ministry to Seafarers here in Montreal. It's with a bit of trepidation that I take on this new chapter for the next 8 months. But even in this first week, one major difference has jumped out at me...

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  • Cribbing from the Ancients

    This morning, I read about an ancient Epiphany practice, still enacted by our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. Epiphany is a multi-layered celebration commemorating: the light entering the darkness, the Magi celebrating the birth of the Christ-child and the turn, with the remembrance of Jesus' baptism. Reading from Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, I learned...

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  • Context Sensitive Prayer

    Context sensitive prayer is, well, prayer which is sensitive to the context you’re in. For example, when driving down the road and I see an ambulance fly by with lights flashing, siren blaring, I pull over to let them pass and say a short prayer for wherever they are going and to whomever they are going to treat. When I see a car in the ditch or an accident on the side of the road, I say a short prayer for those in involved. The prayer is sensitive to the context that is going on. But what about larger contexts? This can be a bit tricky...

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  • Our Model for Pastoral Ministry

    Who is our model for pastoral ministry? Who are our pastoral heroes? I haven’t wrestled with those questions until recently – and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to such an important exercise. Pastors tend to emulate those they lift up as ideal. Consequently, our models or heroes shape the ministries of every pastor...

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  • Epiphany

    On this day of Epiphany we are reminded of the “unveiling” or the “revelation” of who Jesus is and what he means for the world. Whether it’s the star in the East that attracted some Magi or the epiphany of God’s blessing on Jesus at his baptism, Epiphany shows the world who Jesus is. Of course, as believers today living on the far side of the original Epiphany, one might expect to find lots of mini-epiphanies along the way, little signs and reminders of who Jesus is and what he means. Even so, sometimes I am surprised where these latter-day epiphanies crop up...

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  • Responsive Reading

    When, years ago, we'd never done anything like it, it seemed stunning because it was so new. For as long as anyone could remember, people had sung lustily on good old hymns and psalms and listened attentively, even when the preacher would go on and on and never really get anywhere. Along came "responsive readings," and something got uncorked. We spoke. We responded. We read the Bible ourselves. It wasn't just the Reverend going on and on; we took a new role in the drama...

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  • Time like an Ever-Rolling Stream

    I mentioned in this space once upon a time how my grandfather would read Psalm 90 on New Year’s Eve. That was before the church service that night, to be followed by another the next morning. “Christian Reformed folks, think you can party?!? We’ll see about that!” And so we were girded in with church on both sides of that fateful midnight, hearing dolorous tones as to the past and our failings therein on the 31st and ominous hints about our fate in the future on the 1st. “Another Year is Dawning,” for the latter; and for the former, Psalm 90 again, now versified in Isaac Watts’s...

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  • Old Years/New Years

     The Black Hills--and Spearfish Canyon itself--was, you might even say, something of a vacation spot for a hundred bands of Lakota--and others too I suppose. As it was, and still is, for us. The truth is, sane retired people tend to go places, mid-winter, where the temps are seventy degrees or so warmer than they are here in Spearfish Canyon. But my wife's husband has always loved the Black Hills...

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  • What Does It Mean that Jesus Fulfills Scripture?

    “And So Was Fulfilled What the Prophet Had Said” This kind of language is common in the New Testament. Jesus did this or that in order that “scripture may be fulfilled”. I used to hear these parts of the Bible in a way I never examined. I used to hear them as lists of proofs to convince doubters that Christianity is true and Jesus is God. I remember as a kid growing up in the church, going to Christian school, imagining that the reason people decided to be Christians, go to church, not beat their wives or neglect their children was because a prophet said something years before...

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  • Your Kingdom Come

    And while our hope for the new creation is not tied to what humans can do–politically, economically, personally, or otherwise–but, rather, on what God has done, is doing, and will do, we do have a role to play as we wait for the Lord’s return. As God’s instruments, we work towards seeing the kingdom advanced in our lives, in our communities, and around the world. We work toward seeing...

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  • December 30, 2014 - Along the Way...

    As we conclude 2014 and look toward 2015, I would like to encourage each of us to consider taking a page from a popular devotional strategy called "One Word". The idea of "One Word" is to find a Biblical word or phrase that can capture your imagination for the entire year, and make it an emphasis in prayer and study toward developing one particular aspect of your life for the entire year. Through prayer and contemplation, I have chosen a word, or should I say the word chose me. The one word I will focus on in 2015 is "mindful"...

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  • Just One Job

    Jesus says to Peter three times something important. “Feed my lambs” “Take care of my sheep” “Feed my sheep” Just one job: Take care of and feed Jesus’ sheep. The sheep aren’t Peter’s. They belong to Jesus. The Church isn’t Peter’s. The Church belongs to Jesus, it is referred to as the Bride of Christ. Peter is given just one job: Take care of Jesus’ Church...

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  • A Wonderful and Meaningful New Year

    January 1 marks the beginning of a brand new year, 2015. It also gives me an opportunity to wish all of you a wonderful and meaningful new year. But you may wonder what I mean with those words. Wonderful is a well-known word that means "exciting wonder." Some synonyms are: amazing, astonishing, astounding, awesome, fabulous, miraculous, stunning, stupendous, sublime, surprising, marvelous. Something that is wonderful fills us with wonder. Meaningful in this context may be less familiar. It means "have meaning or purpose." A few synonyms are...

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  • Life With a Red Pen

    I wish it weren't so, but just about every book I've read in the last half century is marked up, scratched up, festooned with double and triple asterisks, underlined, doodled up, margin--alized. I swear it. I've got Kindles, and I read e-books; but if I couldn't underline and make notations on the screens, I'd never touch the technology...

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  • The One in the Spotlight

    The marketplace may focus our attention on products to purchase but God calls us to place the spotlight on Jesus. In fact, two thousand years ago John the Baptist received God's call to put the spotlight squarely on Jesus, the Savior of the World.  Here are a few words in John 1:8 about John the Baptist: "He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light." Certainly we can learn a thing or two from the example of John the Baptist. It's not about us. It's all about Jesus. We also need to aim the spotlight directly on the Savior...  

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  • What Do You Mean By "Joy"?

    The season of Advent is full of joy. We gather together with friends and family, we talk about joy at church, we attend an endless number of parties, we listen to the radio that seems to be on a repeat of the same fifteen joyful Christmas songs. We clearly are supposed to be joyful. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be joyful? I remember sitting in a service where the minister preached on joy and explained how it was a feeling that burst forth from the inside. He went on about how if you were not feeling that kind of joy, this contagious happiness, you were...

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  • "Out of Egypt I Called My Son" Hosea 11:1

    I write this blog after the Calvin Seminary community gathered for a prayer service of lament led by Dean of Students, Jeff Sajdak, and Eric Sawar, a Th.M student from Pakistan. There is much to share, but let me just say that Eric wept tears of sorrow for his country in the aftermath of the horrific news of a Taliban attack on a Pakistan school. Eric also wept tears of longing for his wife and children still in Pakistan as he and they wait for political asylum in the United States...

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  • Talking Turkey

    The Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving I left the house to run errands—only to spot a large, brown mass huddled in the snow underneath my front bushes. It turned out to be a wild turkey. And it wasn’t moving. Call me a stereotypical literature professor, attuned to symbolism at every turn, but a dead turkey two days before Thanksgiving seemed like a rather bad sign. I began talking to it—as you do with errant fowl in your front yard—and slowly it lifted its head.

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  • Why Did God Allow That to Happen?

    I had to have the car towed to my mechanic.  Could not get it done until Monday afternoon.  Car was to be fixed on Tuesday.  Found out the problem was more extensive and would take an extra day, maybe two.  It would be expensive.  It might not be done for three days. Why did God allow that to happen?  Didn't He know that I had a plan?  I had job inquiries in two places across the country.  I had a schedule to keep.  I had to leave on Tuesday! Honestly, it sure seemed like God did not care...

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  • Sweetly Bifocaled

    I'm not sure how David Brooks of the NY Times gets so smart; after all, he's just a whipper-snapper. Brooks claims research shows that older people--"experienced" people, he calls us--are happier than people half their age. He's talking about "experienced" people, he says, people who have become, by way of time and space, capable of seeing clearly both what's on their plate and what's down the road. He calls that being "bifocaled."...

     

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  • Spirituality: What Is It to You?

    Over the past few weeks I've heard a number of people quote statistics that say the province I live in, Quebec, is "spiritual" but not religious and been thinking about what it means to be spiritual. I've been reading Eugene Peterson's Subversive Spirituality to prepare for our deep discipleship group's reflection for next month on spirituality, and now, honestly, I still can't define exactly what spirituality, or being spiritual, really is...

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  • Along the Way - December 16, 2014

    Time is not as significant to God, as it is to us. Yet there is always purpose to time. We wait because God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish. We wait, and we are called to be patient too, as we have been given the Holy Spirit who develops our patience like a fruit on a living vine. But how does the Holy Spirit develop our patience?...   

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  • Exodus Movie Wrestles with God

    I went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings despite the criticism of its exasperatingly racist casting. In response to this… let’s call it cowardice, some were calling for boycotts of the film, and perhaps rightly so. But I went anyway because my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to see how a Hollywood filmmaker would tell this story today, and what we might learn from it about where we are, as a culture, with God...

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